Red Pitch review: exploring cross-generational challenges

Three young black men dressed in sports gear are lined up as though ready to run a race, in a scene from the play Francis Lovehall as Omz, Kedar Williams-Stirling as Bilal, Emeka Sisay as Joey, photo by Helen Murray

Inter-generational wars have grown increasingly bitter of late…

Stereotypes abound of lazy millennials and Gen Zs who are too scared to make a phone call, when they’re not busy being triggered by full stops. At the other end of the age spectrum, “OK, boomer” has become a widespread response to anything anyone over 70 says. Especially if it involves the alleged good old days. In the middle, Gen X is probably, I dunno, thinking ‘meh, whevs’ and listening to Absolute Radio 90s… But none of this beefing across the decades is particularly edifying or constructive – or even accurate in many cases. Which brings me nicely to my Red Pitch review, about a wonderful coming-of-age play.

The play centres on three 16-year-old black aspiring footballers, Bilal, Joey, and Omz. They live on the same inner London estate. And they are all hoping to impress the scouts at try-outs for QPR.

That might not sound like the premise for a relatable night at the theatre for anyone older than about 21. Or anyone who doesn’t care about or can’t play football. But it is definitely worth the pleasingly affordable ticket price. For all three, the chance to play for QPR represents a chance to be successful, help their families and overcome unfairly low expectations.

Emeka Sesay as Joey, Kedar Williams-Stirling as Bilal, and Francis Lovehall as Omz, all pictured together talking and holding a football

Emeka Sesay as Joey, Kedar Williams-Stirling as Bilal, and Francis Lovehall as Omz, photo by Helen Murray

The play doesn’t descend into tired stereotypes about gangs, drugs, or knife crime

Instead, it is a powerful state-of-the-nation wake-up call in a country. Where people are still judged by the colour of their skin, and their age.

As the surface is scratched, it soon becomes clear that Red Pitch is not just about three lads kicking a ball around and arguing over Twix bars, chips, and chicken wings.

Omz is a young carer for his 81-year-old grandfather. Bilal is living in the shadow of a tough father with impossible standards. Joey is the most privileged of the three friends, but he is full of righteous anger about those who are being left behind by the gentrification of their estate.

For anyone who was 16 many moons ago, there is a lot to learn from the fast-talking, wisecracking trio. When we – and our parents and grandparents – get older, caring responsibilities cast shadows over our lives.

The characters are hugely relatable

As much as anyone might want to be stoic and dutiful when it comes to caring for ageing relatives, it was easy to relate to Omz’s constant worrying about his grandfather. It is an act of love that will always be tempered by stress, heartache and glimpses of our collective mortality. It was tempting to rush onstage and give outwardly brazen but inwardly fragile Omz a hug. Especially as Soho Place’s in-the-round setting means you can almost touch the actors from the stalls.

Read more: behind the scenes of a small theatre company

With Bilal’s story, the pressure placed on him by his unseen but exacting father must have revived memories for many of the adults in the teen-heavy audience. Parental pressure to succeed – but only in certain fields – and dealing with teenage disappointment that lingers into adulthood, are themes that don’t stop being relatable as we age.

Then there’s Joey, who aspires to be a lawyer and a footballer. It might sound incongruous for a 16-year-old to be full of rage about the changes coming to their rundown but beloved estate. But the deft script means he doesn’t sound like London’s youngest pub bore. It is clearly a reflection of the displacement of social housing tenants that has happened at Elephant and Castle.

The neighbourhood has become shinier at the expense of soul and of the security of longstanding communities.  This is a big message for a play about three teenagers, but it is important and thought-provoking. It can be easy to forget how young people need that sense of belonging that is imparted by strong communities. Even if the buildings are unpretty.

Delving into nostalgia

For me, the play was enhanced by the fact I was surrounded by teenagers and young adults. The smell of Skittles, Doritos and teenage deodorants reminded me of high school in Australia. That era’s aromas were tuckshop food, Rexona Sport and Body Shop White Musk. I’m sure the scents have changed, but it is a universal and constant truth that rooms populated mostly by teenagers tend to smell like junk food and cheap fragrances.

When the initial feelings of nasal assault were replaced by nostalgia, it provided a sense of comfort. This amid a play that is designed to make people feel uncomfortable. As I left the theatre, I overheard an elderly gentleman confess that he only understood about 50 percent of the dialogue. But I hope that even if he was confounded by the fam-laden script, he was able to see that young people are facing challenges that are simultaneously unique to their generation, while being common to us all. We can and should do better to understand each other, rather than resorting to cheap stereotypes that reduce us all.

  • Red Pitch runs until 4 May 2024 at Soho Place theatre, London


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About Georgia Lewis
In a career that has spanned Australia, the Middle East and the UK, Georgia has written about all sorts of things, including sex, cars, food, oil and gas, insurance, fashion, travel, workplace safety, health, religious affairs, glass and glazing... When she's not writing words for fun and profit, she can usually be found with a glass of something French and red in her hand.

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